Has any athlete had a hard luck year quite like Lolo Jones? She didn't medal at the Olympics, she was savaged for having the nerve to be attractive and marketable, and then her own teammates threw her under the bus. Since the Olympics have come and gone, Lolo has been out of the spotlight, but she unwittingly stepped into another firestorm with one of the great Twitter mishaps of all-time Tuesday night.
It all started with an innocent tweet from former Rutgers player Eric LeGrand to Lolo, jokingly challenging her to a race. LeGrand has been paralyzed since 2010, but his quest to walk again has inspired countless people around the country. LeGrand has been on the cover of Sports Illustrated, been honored at the ESPYs, served as a motivational speaker, and even signed a contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and former Rutgers coach Greg Schiano.
Lolo Jones apparently knew none of this, because she took LeGrand's challenge seriously. First, she asked if LeGrand was concussed (admittedly not the most tactful approach), and then proposed a $40,000 wager on the race saying she only races for money or Olympic medals.
I can't think of a more painfully awkward Twitter exchange. You have to take Lolo at her word in this case because no human being could possibly taunt a paralyzed man so brazenly (at least I'd hope). Thankfully, LeGrand tweeted Jones and gave her his support, but you could tell the negative tweets fired at Lolo were taking their toll on her.
Thx.Getting trashed by tons of ppl glad ur not one of em RT @ericlegrand52: didnt take it personal,understand where ur coming from.All good
— Lolo Jones (@lolojones) October 3, 2012
Jones could have handled the initial Twitter exchange better, but later gave a more extensive apology to Yahoo Sports:
"I'm truly sorry if I offended anyone by my tweet. When Eric challenged me to a race earlier all I knew was that he was a football player, but certainly had no idea he had become paralyzed from a football injury. I thought I was tweeting in good fun like I always do with the many athletes who challenge me to races."
"I really appreciate that Eric understands my mistake and acknowledges that there was no ill will intended. I've become familiar with his story tonight and he is certainly an inspiration to so many people, which I really admire."
Lolo is also now following LeGrand on Twitter if that's worth anything. I'm sure there's a bigger lesson here about athletes being more careful on Twitter and the dangers of social media. There will be even more hyperbolic statements and judgments on Lolo Jones herself and what an awful person she is. But c'mon, really? This is just an incredibly unfortunate series of events that could have happened to anybody and reached DEFCON 1 only because of the celebrity status involved. Given the nature of both athletes, hopefully LeGrand gets his race against Lolo one day to benefit a worthy cause.